Driving Customers to Your Doorstep

You’re not thinking about IT.  You pay someone to do that.  (Maybe you pay us to do that.)  But with technology touching – and in many ways shaping – our culture through smart phones, mobile apps, wi-fi, and the like, our customers expect to interact with us on these levels—and that if they can’t, they’re going to go somewhere else.

Having lived in the world of phone systems for 10+ years, I’m connected with call center technology, methodology, and trends.  The word of the day in pretty much all call center circles is “self-service” – giving customers access to the data they want, how they want.  More and more, this is looking like mobile apps and online resources.  Remember when it used to take you an hour to pay bills?  When you used to update your Rolodex with index cards?  We are so accustomed to having information at our fingertips now that we huff in disgust when somebody doesn’t “have an app for that.”  Even though we are small businesses, should we expect our customers’ responses to be any different?

So what are the questions we should be asking ourselves as we try to best serve our customers’ changing needs and adapt to the demands that technology, by allowing instant access, puts on us?  Here are some questions to consider:

·      What information would our customers want access to 24/7 if it were possible?
·      Would it be best if customers had access to assistance during that process (online chat, help line, etc.)?
·      Where is that data stored, and how secure is it?
·      Who or what is updating the information that customers want, and in what intervals?  (Think about how-to articles, advice columns, and industry news, as well as account information and key performance metrics.)
·      How is that information being provided to customers now, if at all?

“I would love it if I didn’t have to call you about [x] and could just find the information I need online.”

“I need to know where to look for relevant information regarding my business when it comes time to make strategic and/or budgetary decisions.  Help!!”

This may seem like just another homework assignment, but think about this for a minute:  If your business can do this well, and online/mobile, it won’t just be your existing customers that will benefit.  If you do this right, you will actually drive potential business to your doorstep by being accessible, and by having the tools that other businesses want in their communications with their partners and service providers.  People will be coming to you, asking to be your customers!  That type of return is definitely worth the time investment.

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How’s Your Grip on Your IT?

Here’s a question perhaps few business people can answer in the affirmative: Am I confident that the technology my business relies on is working the way it should?

Below are a few things IT professionals suggest businesses can do to get a grip on technology:

Make sure someone is responsible for understanding and communicating what the business needs. A business can have all the IT help in the world, but someone working in the business must be willing to take the time to understand key objectives. What is the business trying to do? What keeps you up at night? How can technology cripple your operation? How can it provide competitive advantage? These aren’t always easy questions to answer, and with no one focusing on these concerns, the technology investments you make aren’t likely to be on target with your needs.

Involve IT in business planning. Today, businesses require proactive problem solvers and forward thinkers. Additionally, I’ve seen plans fail due to some serious technical oversight. As an example, it’s pretty darn tough to open a typical new office in just two weeks. Some critical IT infrastructure components simply take time to procure and provision.

Communicate. … frequently. Every business decision should take into account the technical ramifications and opportunities. Do not forget to consult employees about possible challenges or ways to improve. The people that must interact with technology every day as part of their jobs can provide considerable insight into what works and what doesn’t.

Fix your stuff. Unfortunately, many businesses postpone the inevitable task refreshing or replacing key components. Over the years, productivity tends to decline as a result of aging systems, an increase in disruptive technical failures and old software that lacks the features and stability required by the business today.

Keep tabs on age of your equipment. You can’t expect 10-year-old infrastructure that was band-aided together in the first place to be doing a bang-up job for your business. You also can’t expect your IT person, no matter how awesome the geek may be, to be successful or to feel successful. When businesses are trapped in this mode, technology tends to be more expensive, not less.

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7 Ways to Toughen Your Business’ Mobile Device Security

Smartphones extend the network perimeter like never before, but also give potential attackers new entry routes. Consider these get-tough strategies.

What's the best way to secure mobile devices used in the enterprise?

Start by realizing that employee-owned mobile devices, in the wrong hands, could provide anytime, anywhere access to corporate secrets. Accordingly, they must be secured, and your business secured against their potential misuse.

InformationWeek offers seven ideas on where to start:

1. Create Strong Security Policies.

Basic? Yeah, but a necessary first step in securing your network.  "Establish appropriate controls, aligned with your corporate policies, that make sense for your type of organization," offers a senior security consultant.

2. Consider App Whitelisting (or blacklisting).

Want to stop attacks?  Prevent your organization's mobile devices from being exploited by restricting which apps employees can install on their devices.  "If a company allows installation of any app whatsoever, in the iPhone arena it could be bad (and) in the Android arena... you're just inviting a malicious app into your organization," warns a senior security consultant.

3. Proactively Wipe Mobile Devices.

Beyond requiring password protection, consider protocols that would lead to automatically wiping a device.  For example, devices can be set to auto delete contents after a prescribed number of failed login attempts or after a specified period of time without connecting to your network.

Read more on 7 ways here.

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Mark Cuban – 12 rules for startups

In a recent article on entrepreneur.com, Mark Cuban shares his 12 rules for startup companies.  Here are our favorites:

1. Don't start a company unless it's an obsession and something you love.

2. Sales cure all.

3. Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them.

4. Never buy swag. A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts.

You're thinking, "Hey, this is a tech blog.  What do Cuban's rules have to do with technology?"  Just this:

If you want to succeed - to focus on your core competencies, to start a company that's an obsession for you, to avoid getting caught up in sizzle and swag - you can't afford to divert your time and energies to figuring out what technology you need and then making it work for your business.

Stay with the basics.  Do what you love (which probably isn't IT support!).  Focus on your core business.  And find a great IT company that can support your technology needs and help you grow your business.

And if you'd like to read more about Cuban's rules, click here.

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Most In-demand Jobs in 2012

Tech has often topped the list of most in-demand jobs - and 2012 will be no exception, at least in part.  Inc. magazine's Keith Cline recently summarized the toughest-to-fill jobs for the New Year.

While software engineers and web developers ranked among the most in-demand, there were some surprises.  Social media/digital marketers and analytics specialists also topped the list of jobs that would be in high demand in 2012.  Yet even these jobs have a definite techy component to them.  Companies aren't looking for traditional marketers, but those who understand Internet-based marketing and can draw new business for their firms by leveraging technology.

The good news?  While the job market remains tough in the face of ongoing economic slowdown, many companies are looking for key personnel who can still attract revenues in an increasingly challenging  environment.

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How safe is your password?

Forbes.com recently published its 25 Worst Passwords of 2011. From Forbes' list we have handpicked our own 10 biggest losers.

Yet before you read on, let us echo Forbes' warning: if you see your password here, STOP! Change your password now, then come read our helpful password advice which follows. Without further adieu, our 2011 Password Hall of Shame:

1. passw0rd                                         2. 123456

3. letmein                                            4. abc123

5. trustno1                                           6. 111111

7. iloveyou                                          8. 654321

9. superman                                         10. princess

If you made it this far without having to race off to change your password (or passw0rd...), you deserve a digital ATTABOY!  But don't pat yourself on the back too much, security remains a major challenge for you and your computer.

Last year, some estimates suggest more than 50 million passwords were stolen and numerous websites hacked. Among the high profile websites hacked: Canada's Conservative Party, Citigroup, European Parliament, Fox Broadcasting Corp, French Finance Ministry, Google Mail, L3- Communications, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Nasdaq, New York Yankees, New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, Nintendo, NASA, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, PBS, Sony, and Voice of America.

Last year, computer data security firm Imperva provided a list of password best practices, created by NASA to help its users protect their rocket science, they include:

  • Your password should contain at least eight characters.
  • Your password should contain a mix of four different types of characters - upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters (such as !@#$%^&*,;").
  • If there is only one letter or special character in your password, it should not be either the first or last character in the password.
  • Your password should not be a name, a slang word, or any word in the dictionary.
  • Your password should not include any part of your name or your e-mail address.

Using different passwords for different sites is recommended, but increases greatly the difficulty of remembering multiple passwords.  As a compromise, perhaps create different passwords for use on different groups of sites/services you use, so that not all sites and services are covered by the same password.

The rub may be remembering your newly-created impenetrable password.  One memory trick is to create a password from a sentence you can remember.  For example: "now I lay me down to sleep" becomes the 10-character password nilmDOWN2s.

Or perhaps use the combined letters and ages of your brother's children, where the password EmJaMa28 represents Emma, Jason Matthew and their combined ages totaling 28.  Unless someone knows a lot about your family, this will be challenging to steal.

And if you need a cheat sheet of passwords you use, consider writing them down and storing them in your wallet (not on your computer!) - just don't include a list of the corresponding sites the passwords match.

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20 ways to use Sharepoint in your business

Sharepoint is a Microsoft tool useful for managing projects and related documents. We found this helpful article on 20 ways to use it in your business. The list is more useful  - and more practical - than 50 Ways to Cook With Spam. To give you a taste (of Sharepoint, not Spam!), here are 5 ways your business can utilize Sharepoint.

1. Keep a central task location for assigning tasks to team members. These tasks will automatically show up in your team's Outlook 2007 To-Do List. Those tasks will also link to your projects so you can easily find out what tasks are still open for each project.

2. Organize large events and store the related documents, assigned tasks, and generally post anything and everything related to the events. It will also integrate with Outlook for added efficiency.

3. Collaborate with team members on all documents and stay on top of who did what. Earlier versions can easily be restored in case someone has made too many mistakes. Projects can also be linked to related documents.

4. Assign tasks to your team members, and automatically notify them that they have a new task. Alerts are sent when there have been updates to the tasks.

5. Quickly manage all projects for your team or organization so there's no need to explore buying an expensive project management solution.

To check out 20 Ways, click here.

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IT spending on the upswing in 2012

Seems like there's more new IT surveys cropping up than tweets from NBA players asking to lift the lock-out.  And here comes another one (survey , that is).  The Society of Information Management (SIM) weighs in with their recent nationwide survey of CIO and IT executives.  The overall thesis: how optimistic are IT executives regarding IT spending trends?

"The survey shows the success of IT departments and how they are working with their business partners to leverage IT and to reduce business expenses," said Jerry Luftman, lead researcher for the SIM survey and a professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology. "Companies aren't looking to IT as the first place to slice and dice."

Part of this new level of trust and cooperation between businesses and their IT support providers, whether in-house or outsourced: IT executives say their departments are better positioned to meet business needs - whether resulting from reducing business expenses through technology or accelerating abilities to bring new  services to market.

So let's talk numbers.  85% of survey respondents said their 2012 IT budget will be greater or equal to their 2011 budget; this compares with less than half (48%) of respondents reporting stable or growing IT budgets in 2009.

The percentage of overall corporate revenues earmarked for IT spending will hold constant in 2012, another sign of optimism.

But one technology area that comes up short in sharing this optimism: cloud computing.  According to the SIM survey, CIOs are not planning to allocate significant amounts of their IT budget to cloud computing.  Overall, IT executives plan to spend an average of 11% of their budget on the Cloud.

"The investment numbers for cloud computing are less than what the hype would suggest," Luftman said. "People are still trying to understand cloud computing and figure it out, and they are recognizing that it is not an inexpensive migration. Today may not be the best time to invest in cloud, although people are paying attention to it."

NBA players: want a bigger piece of the pie?  Become IT professionals!  In the meantime, eat your hearts out...

Read more.

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Ten Computer Viruses that Changed the World?

They sound like the names of cheesy horror flicks and old girlfriends.  The Brain.  Melissa.  Conficker.

In a recent e-article, ZDNet overviews "10 computer viruses that changed the world."  OK, so "changed the world" may be a bit of hyperbole on their part, but who hasn't faced the humbling experience of lost data, fried hardware, and other happy results of being the victim of a computer virus?  Take a stroll down Memory Lane - or perhaps the Hall of Shame - with this fanciful pictorial history of computer viruses over the years.

Then consider McAfee's recent announcement of its "Deep Defender" security product, which is designed to provide a layer of malware protection "at the chip level" between the CPU and the OS.  Protecting components within the physical memory, should we chalk up one for the "good guys?"  Read more here.

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Going up? IT spending in a tough economy

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) will increase IT spending on outsourced services at a rate of more than $1 billion per year.  According to global research firm Techaisle in a survey of 2,000 SMBs here in the U.S., SMBs will grow what they spend on IT providers from $7 billion this year to $12 billion in 2015.  That's roughly a 70% increase over this year.

Both the percentage of total budget companies spend on outsourced IT and the percentage of companies choosing to outsource IT support will increase over the next few years, according to the Techaisle survey.  Currently, slightly more than one in five SMBs outsource IT support.

Aren't we in recessionary times?  Yes, and that may hold the key to this increase in outsourced IT spending.  While new technologies, including the ongoing shift to cloud-based technologies, create part of the increased IT spend among SMBs, the economy is a definite factor.  Businesses are hiring fewer employees, relying on technology to offset hiring cutbacks in some cases, and outsourcing IT support rather than hiring in-house IT personnel.  In short, SMBs continue to look for ways to trim costs and find technology more a friend than foe in this effort.

Read more here.

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